President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden have thanked Asian-Americans in the US for contributing to every part of American life and reflecting the soul of “who we are as a nation”, as they hosted the largest-ever Diwali reception at the White House.
More than 200 eminent Indian Americans attended the reception at the East Room, a venue that has witnessed some of the landmark events related to the India-US relationship, including the signing of the civil nuclear deal and the joint press conference by then US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2008.
“We are honoured to host you… this is the first Diwali reception of this scale, in this house, ever to be held,” Biden said.
“We have more Asian-Americans than ever before in history…Thank you for making the Diwali celebration a joyous part of American culture,” he said.
This was the largest Diwali celebration at the White House since it started celebrating the festival of light during the George Bush administration.
The reception saw some enthralling cultural events, including performances by sitarist Rishab Sharma and the dance troupe ‘The Sa Dance Company’. The guests, dressed in traditional Indian attires such as saree, lehenga and sherwani, relished some mouth-watering Indian delicacies.
Thanking Indian-Americans for making Diwali a part of the American culture, he said, “As we see it across the country, opening homes and hearts and exchanging gifts and sweets and hosting feasts for family and friends, organising cultural programs that bring us together… you contribute to every part of American life.” “Thank you for reflecting the soul of who we are as a nation,” Biden said.
“The soul is what makes us us. Optimism that is tested and en- — yet endures. The courage that digs really deep when it’s needed. Truth and knowledge that overcomes falsehood and ignorance. And empathy and a willingness to see each other not as enemies but as fellow Americans,” he said.
The incredible South Asian community all across America has helped the country emerge stronger from this pandemic, building an economy that works for everyone, responding to the cry for action on climate, working to fix the immigration system, defending rights and freedoms, building a more just and equitable country, serving and protecting communities and the nation, informing, entertaining and inspiring, he said.
Biden said the South Asian community reflects the “soul of who we are as a nation, whether helping us emerge stronger from this pandemic, building an economy that works for everyone or serving and protecting our communities and our country”.
However, he cautioned that there was darkness “always lurking”. “American history has been a constant struggle between its ideals that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that we have never fully lived up to it. By marking the victory of light over darkness, Diwali is a reminder that each of us has the power to bring light to the world, whether here in America or around the world,” he said.
“With prayers, dances, fireworks and sweets, may all who observe Diwali enjoy the chance to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of community, and to remember the power in the gathering of light,” Biden added.
“We just lit a diya surrounded by members of our staff who are part of the administration. We have more Asian Americans than ever before in history. And we also wanted to send this message to all of you here and to millions of fellow Americans across the country who observe this sacred holiday. It’s a simple message: Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you,” he said.
In a statement earlier, Biden wished a happy Diwali to the more than one billion Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists celebrating the festival of lights in the US, India and around the world.
“As we host the official White House Diwali reception, we are honoured to light the diya surrounded by members of the most diverse administration in American history—led by Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black American and South Asian American to become vice president,” he said.
Jill Biden, in her address, said Indian-Americans help light the path with courage, kindness, persistence and love as the US charts its way forward.
“As we chart our path toward the future, this community helps light our way forward with courage and kindness, with persistence and faith, with love. I’m grateful that today these diyas have guided you to this home, a home that belongs to all of you: The White House,” she said.
Quoting Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, she said, “The sky is flushed with the dawn and my path lies beautiful. Ask not what I have with me to take there. I start on my journey with empty hands and an expected heart.” Giving a message of unity and solidarity, the First Lady said, “When we realise that even the smallest flame can illuminate our path home, that the sweetest delicacies are made with love, that the most rewarding gifts are those we give to others and that simple clay lamps burning together can outshine any moon.” Inviting Vice President Kamala Harris to speak, Jill Biden described her as a “a friend who has become a light to both Joe (Biden) and to me”.
In response, Harris said, “Your warmth, wisdom and strength are a beacon to us all.” “The room is full at the East state dining room… This is a real celebration of what the Indian American community has achieved in the United States. It’s a wonderful recognition by the President and by the White House to host all of us on Diwali. I feel very privileged to be here as an Indian American,” Atul Keshap, president of US India Business Council told PTI during the reception.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to be here to celebrate Diwali. Indian Americans thank the President and the First Lady for this,” said H R Shah, chairman and CEO of TV Asia, the largest South Asian television channel in the US.
“It was heartening to see the leaders of our vibrant Indian American community come together at the White House during Diwali to be a force for good. It was also nice to hear the president on Diwali day welcoming Rishi Sunak as the new prime minister of the UK,” said M R Rangaswami, entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Indiaspora.
Ajay Jain Bhutoria, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, said the event was held to recognise the South Asian community’s contributions in economic development and managing Covid crisis among others.
Biden has appointed a record number of over 130 Indo-Americans at various levels of the administrations, he said.
Lauding the Diwali celebration, Bhutoria said it sent a message “how much President Biden and this administration loves and respects the South Asian community”.